Fictional persuasion, transparency, and the aim of belief

In Ema Sullivan-Bissett, Helen Bradley & Paul Noordhof (eds.), Art and Belief. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 153-73 (2017)
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In this chapter we argue that some beliefs present a problem for the truth-aim teleological account of belief, according to which it is constitutive of belief that it is aimed at truth. We draw on empirical literature which shows that subjects form beliefs about the real world when they read fictional narratives, even when those narratives are presented as fiction, and subjects are warned that the narratives may contain falsehoods. We consider Nishi Shah’s teleologist’s dilemma and a response to it from Asbjørn Steglich-Petersen which appeals to weak truth regulation as a feature common to all belief. We argue that beliefs from fiction indicate that there is not a basic level of truth regulation common to all beliefs, and thus the teleologist’s dilemma remains. We consider two objections to our argument. First, that the attitudes gained through reading fiction are not beliefs, and thus teleologists are not required to account for them in their theory. We respond to this concern by defending a doxastic account of the attitudes gained from fiction. Second, that these beliefs are in fact appropriately truth-aimed, insofar as readers form beliefs upon what they take to be author testimony. We respond to this concern by suggesting that the conditions under which one can form justified beliefs upon testimony are not met in the cases we discuss. Lastly, we gesture towards a teleological account grounded in biological function, which is not vulnerable to our argument. We conclude that beliefs from fiction present a problem for the truth-aim teleological account of belief.

Author Profiles

Ema Sullivan-Bissett
University of Birmingham
Lisa Bortolotti
University of Birmingham


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